No team in the National Football League has drafted from the number one position more than the Houston Texans over the past twenty years. Thursday night will be my hometown’s third venture in selecting college football’s cream of the crop and it’s a pivotal pick for the entire organization. The “third verse” is a lot like the second and first, with many debating whether the Texans should select a potential franchise quarterback or go with an athletic pass rusher.
As an expansion team in 2002, the Texans were allowed to cut to the front of the line of the NFL Draft and selected Fresno State QB David Carr over North Carolina’s DE Julius Peppers. Though few will admit it today, Carr was thought to be exactly what the young team needed to build around and most had the Bulldogs’ signal caller penciled in at #1 from the start. The resulting story? The Texans went 23-53 over Carr’s five years as their starter. He was sacked 249 times and threw 65 interceptions to counter his 59 TD’s. Somebody forgot to tell Houston they also needed an offensive line.
Peppers was drafted by Carolina at #2, went on to sign with Chicago as an Unrestricted Free Agent, and has recorded 8 Pro Bowl seasons and All-Pro honors in 2004, 2006, and 2010. He has 119 sacks over his twelve year and 186 game career.
In 2005 Dom Capers was fired as head coach after a 2-14 season and Houston was once again faced with the Quarterback vs Pass Rush conundrum in the NFL Draft. This time it was the state’s favorite son out of the University of Texas, Vince Young vs the formidable Mario Williams of North Carolina State. Young was coming off a National Championship season with the Longhorns and fans were clamoring for General Manage Charlie Casserly to tab “one of their own” to restart the fledgling franchise. Casserly had orchestrated the original selection of Carr, only to see it backfire four years later. There were many who questioned Young’s ability to transfer his college production to the next level, not the least of which appeared to be Casserly.
The Texans tabbed Williams to the surprise of many and Young was taken somewhat smugly by Bud Adams and the Tennessee Titans at #3 (formerly the Houston Oilers). Williams has had a solid career, though nowhere near the dominant force many predicted. Three Pro Bowls and 76.5 sacks are the high points of the defensive end’s (now of the Buffalo Bills) career. Young, much like David Carr, never was able to entirely replicate his college success and is now out of the League. He recorded a 30-17 record as the Titans’ starter and two trips to the Pro Bowl, but injuries and inconsistency hampered much of his six seasons in the NFL.
Three’s a charm
Now for a third time the Houston Texans will be called upon by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to commence the annual selection process, and once again they’re faced with the specter of choosing between a potential franchise quarterback (many who would wish it to be Johnny Manziel out of Texas A&M) and perhaps the most athletic prospect in the draft, Jadeveon Clowney from South Carolina. Manziel is the brash and cocky quarterback that “pulled rabbits out of his hat” for two straight seasons in College Station. Clowney is thought to be the best overall prospect at his position in year; a can’t miss dominant pass rush force with some troubling holes in his work ethic.
Clearly, but perhaps overly confident?
Texans owner Bob McNair vows that Houston will not make the same mistake they did with Carr. General Manager Rick Smith says he “absolutely knows who he wants with his first pick”. New head coach Bill O’Brien has been tasked with turning around a franchise that slid 10 games from 2012 to 2013. There’s on obvious question at QB (T.J. Yates & Case Keenum) and a defense that recorded the fewest interceptions (7) and second fewest sacks (32) in the NFL for 2013.
Smith, though tight with the owner, has to be feeling the heat from Bill O’Brien’s new found authority and presence in the War Room. It was Gary Kubiak that slid Smith into Houston as the Texans’ GM in 2006 and yet Smith was able to dodge “The Turk” when Kubiak was given the pink slip before the end of last season. Now O’Brien (McNair’s handpicked predecessor) sits back to see exactly what Smith will deliver him from the catbird seat in this year’s NFL draft; quarterback, pass rusher, trade back, or something else? O’Brien comes from the “coach first” philosophy of Bill Belichick tree. The “3 year hourglass” for a new head coach has been turned over.
Elite quarterbacks are not normally found after Round 2; Russell Wilson is an anomaly, not the norm. Tom Brady was drafted 14 years ago. Rest assured Houston’s choice, whichever direction they choose to go, will have monumental ripple effects throughout the first night of the 2014 NFL Draft and an even greater impact on the front office of 2 Reliant Park. Both the short and long term future of the Texans hangs with this pick.
“Houston, you’re on the clock”.